By David Sole
In what can only be described as the General Strike of 2021, millions upon millions of workers across the United States are refusing to go back to work as the COVID-19 pandemic wanes in this country. Employers are bewailing the lack of applicants as “Now Hiring” signs fail to attract qualified workers in a wide variety of workplaces.
The general strike has been a serious weapon of the working class world-wide. In other countries they have been of varying lengths of time, often covering an entire nation. In the United States the general strike has a long history of being used to address outrageous conditions in one city or another.
In all previous cases the general strike has been planned and led by the labor unions often with wide community support and involving the highest levels of organization. They included widespread shutdowns of industry, business and transportations, sometimes resulting in pitched battles with police and troops as the ruling capitalist class tried to force the workers to return to work.
What is different in 2021? This general strike has emerged from the year long lockdown as most of the nations across the globe tried to stem the crisis of the COVID-19 viral spread. Now Wall Street industrialists and bankers feel it is time to renew their exploitation of labor. Workers, mostly unorganized, are not moving fast enough to satisfy the business interests.
During the pandemic many sectors of the capitalist economy came to a grinding halt. To save their tottering capitalist system the ruling class and its politicians pumped unimaginable amounts of money into the pockets of the big business and banking coffers. A much smaller amount was offered to alleviate the destitution of the unemployed and poor families so that they could continue to buy necessities and keep some wheels of commerce turning. Small businesses often got little to nothing.
One of the election promises of the 2020 Democratic campaign of Joseph Biden was to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. This really modest proposal did not materialize after Biden’s victory and inauguration. It is now 5 months since Biden took office with the Democratic Party holding a majority in both houses of Congress and there is still no prospect for a raise in the minimum wage.
So it seems, without union organization, without leadership, without means of coordination, millions of workers simply do not want to go back to work for “peanuts.” Federal supplemental unemployment benefits of $300 per week have been given in this transition period to those collecting unemployment benefits. (This is much smaller than the $600 per week extra doled out at the height of the crisis last spring and summer.) The $300 Federal weekly bonus is set to expire in September, but 26 states (25 led by Republicans) announced that they are no longer going to participate months earlier. These politicians claim workers are getting too much money and need to be driven back to work.
The mass media is full of comments blaming the workers for not wanting to work. Rarely is it suggested that businesses in need of workers should raise the wages they are offering.
Many workers also are simply unable to return to work because of the collapse of the daycare industry. In many locations schools are not yet back to face to face classes and daycare providers are nowhere near the level they were before the start of the pandemic.
This general strike is massive but spontaneous. It could be raised to a higher level of organization and consciousness if the trade union movement would forcefully articulate the needs of the entire working class, establish unemployed committees in every locality and put its resources and staffs to combat the right-wing attacks on the workers and their families.
A program for an immediate living wage, higher than $15 an hour, national health care, subsidized childcare, affordable housing and inflation protection could mobilize a real working class fight against all the ills that have been exposed to the masses in the past year and a half.